How do you differentiate a co-op zombie shooter from the rest of the horde? Based on my play time with Overkill’s The Walking Dead at E3 2018, you throw in a bunch of other humans, a class-based player system, and sprinkle liberally with bear traps.
Lots and lots of bear traps.
While the weight of the Walking Dead license will no doubt lend some teeth to Overkill’s bite at the co-op shooter market, it’s certainly no guarantee of success—and Overkill is hard at work trying to ensure The Walking Dead doesn’t end up DOA.
Work together. Kill everything.
In a genre often dominated by frenetic bullet-spraying, where trigger-fingers are loose and bullets grow on crates, The Walking Dead takes a grittier, more tactical approach inspired by the comics and TV show.
Firstly, in addition to the zombie (er, walker) hordes, there are (AI) humans you must contend with. The walkers are also equally dangerous to human and AI players. If you’re clever (and careful), walkers can be directed (somewhat) as a weapon. Of course, if you’re not clever (or just a bit unlucky), this tactic can bite you in the ass (and other places).
The first part of our mission was familiar zombie apocalypse territory: navigating house to house through a neighborhood and scavenging for supplies. We ran into small groups of walkers but nothing we couldn’t quickly take out with some careful melee attacks. Being veteran zombie shooter players and Walking Dead fans, we knew that a) noise is bad, and b) conserving ammo is good.
We found some needed parts to get a generator up and working, enabling us to progress to the next section of the map. I noticed numerous resources to scavenge and (presumably) use for various things, but with only 20 minutes to play, we didn’t spend long learning the intricacies of the characters, their abilities, and how to use these resources. Just know that The Walking Dead is a class-based game, and each of the game’s four characters (Aidan, Maya, Grant, and Heather) has a specific skill set and progression tree beyond just pulling a trigger and helping each other up when incapacitated.
This is an important dynamic because only certain characters can act as medics, pick locks, or craft certain items from scavenged supplies. Teamwork is essential.
As in virtually all zombie games, noise attracts trouble, so stealth is vital. The Walking Dead‘s walkers are the slow, stupid variety of zombie, so there are no fancy ‘mutants’ with weird abilities—although we did run into walkers in leftover combat armor and hazmat suits that were far more difficult to kill than the average shambling, hungry corpse.
Some walkers also lay dormant and may only ‘activate’ if you get near them. Never trust a body. I suspect there are other subtle variants that we didn’t encounter.
Beware the Zombears
The most important lesson I learned early in the game is that human survivors are (or were) absolutely terrified of bears to such a degree that they stockpiled a ludicrous number of bear traps.
I learned this because I think I stepped in every. Single. Goddamn. Bear trap. Apparently, my character’s special skill was ‘bear trap finder’, which based on the number of traps I stepped in I had a skill rank of +187.
Thankfully, I think another teammate was a good a Bear Trap Opener, and regularly freed me from bear traps (Free Idiot from Bear Traps, +217). Also thankfully, despite The Walking Dead‘s more realistic approach to the zombie shooter, I didn’t need my leg amputated, wasn’t inflicted with perma-damage for the rest of the level, and probably wouldn’t later die of an infection or tetanus.
We came upon a human settlement and stayed low while slinking through the side buildings, crouched to avoid detection. There were at least half a dozen or more armed survivors. By this time I actually managed to avoid at least a couple of bear traps, but stepped in another one as I looked out a window at a pen of walkers locked behind some chain link fence.
By now, I had actually started looking for bear traps more than undead. “Has anyone seen an actual bear?” I ask my teammates.
If we could pick the lock or somehow free the walkers in the pen below, they could save us some effort fighting the other survivors.
Eventually one of the survivors spots us, and a firefight ensues. Combat is, much like the TV show, a calculated affair. Walkers tend to move in slow packs that will ultimately envelop you. The human survivors take cover, preferring to keep us at long range and let their traps continue to whittle us down.
Fortunately, we managed to set a horde of penned up walkers loose and they slowly spill into the combat area where a short way across the battlefield, forcing the enemy survivors to divide their attention.
Unfortunately, while we’re able to use this to our advantage and finish off the survivors, we were left to contend with a much larger horde than we anticipated. Dozens of walkers continued spilling into the area. We had only to push through the gate to the other side to freedom, but bottleneck was filled with walkers.
We corner up—or at least try. But just like the Walking Dead TV show, the horde slowly whittled down our ammo. Desperate swings with melee weapons follow, but we start to get separated.
The cycle of desperate incapacitation and revivals begin, but the ocean of mangled corpses slowly drowns and consumes us as we desperately draw our last breaths just inches from freedom.
It was a slow, dreadful death.
And true to the TV show and comics that inspired the game.
Overkill’s The Walking Dead is coming from Starbreeze Studios, Skybound Entertainment, and 505 Games November 2018 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.